INTERVIEW: Unpacking India’s caste census
In October 2023, the chief minister of Bihar, Nitish Kumar, released the results of a caste survey of his state – a landmark development given that India has not had a comprehensive count of its caste composition since 1931, and pushed through despite resistance from the central government under the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Bihar’s survey found that over two-thirds of the state’s population of 130 million belonged to oppressed castes, establishing an essential fact in the wider battle for expanded affirmative action for oppressed communities. The results of Bihar’s caste count will likely trigger more such exercises in other parts of India.
In this edition of Himal Interviews, our Editor, Roman Gautam, interviews Anil Varghese and Nawal Kishore Kumar of Forward Press, a Delhi-based publishing house and website dedicated to anti-caste thought and caste emancipation. Varghese is the editor-in-chief of Forward Press, while Kumar is the Hindi editor. Varghese and Kumar also collaborated on an article for Himal Southasian, titled ‘India needs a caste census – and Southasia does too’, published on 13 January.
Why has a country-wide caste census in India been delayed for so long? How might Bihar’s survey results impact the representation of oppressed castes in all spheres of Indian public life?